LANCASTER – A preliminary hearing began Wednesday to determine if a Palmdale School District administrator will stand trial for child abuse and multiple counts of dog fighting and animal cruelty.
Pauline Winbush, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, and her boyfriend, Kevin Ray Williams, are each charged with 17 felony counts of cruelty to an animal, four felony counts of dog fighting, and one felony count of child abuse. The complaint includes seven Los Angeles County code violations, including unsanitary conditions and failing to license and vaccinate the dogs. [View a copy of the complaint here.]
At Wednesday’s court hearing, an animal control investigator testified about what officers found at the couple’s Antelope Acres home.
Sergeant Rachel Montez of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control said she accompanied a team of officers serving a search warrant Nov. 26 at the couple’s residence in the 7000 block of West Avenue A-14.
On the property, which was overgrown with weeds and debris, the team found 19 pit bulls in various stages of poor health and malnutrition, about 19 dead pigeons decomposing in a coop, two containers of dead mice that had decomposed and were “in pieces,” and a dead puppy in a trash can, according to Montez’s testimony.
Of the 19 pit bulls, 10 were in crates inside the couple’s home, one was inside a garage, and the rest were in kennels outside, Montez said.
One of the pit bulls was locked in a crate beside the bed in a child’s bedroom, and there was an excessive amount of dried feces – about four inches thick – inside the crate, according to Montez’s testimony.
“The feces was being kicked outside the crate every time the dog moved,” Montez said.
The dog had “numerous old wounds to the face, muzzle, ears and chest… and all the wounds were consistent with dog fighting,” Montez testified.
In the master bedroom were three pit bulls, each in a crate lined with three to four inches of feces and without food or water, Montez said. “The crates smelled horrendous because of the excessive amounts of fecal [matter],” she said.
In the den, there were two pit bulls stuffed in feces-lined crates, and one of crates was too small to allow the dog to stand upright, according to Montez’s testimony. She said the crates had no food or water and were surrounded by cobwebs, which suggested that they had not been moved in a long time.
Four crates in a spare room of the house held four 3-month-old puppies, Montez said. A mixture of fecal matter and sawdust was at the bottom of their crates, she added.
Among the pit bulls discovered outside the house was one so emaciated “you could count every rib in her body,” Montez said.
At least four of the 19 pit bulls had old scars, which were consistent with dog fighting, Montez testified.
Montez said she responded to the couple’s residence about five years ago, and there were at least 30 pit bulls on the property at that time. She said she suspected dog fighting activity, but at the time, the department didn’t have the resources to investigate. She said she advised Williams of her suspicions.
“He didn’t deny nor say he was [dog fighting] when I had the conversation with him,” Montez said.
This time around, an investigation began after animal control officers spotted a horse belonging to the couple roaming the streets on Oct. 29.
“It was roaming down 70th west close to Avenue D,” Montez testified. An animal control officer trailed the animal back to the couple’s property, and Montez said she responded to the couple’s home that day.
“What I observed on this property is that there was no containment for this animal,” Montez testified, adding that she impounded the horse. About a month later on Nov. 26, authorities raided the property, prompting the criminal charges.
Also testifying Wednesday was animal control veterinarian Misty Hirschbein, who examined the animals recovered from the couple’s property.
Many of the pit bulls were thin, with dirty coats, dandruff, long nails and a bad odor, according to Hirschbein’s testimony.
Hirschbein will continue to testify when the preliminary hearing resumes Thursday. Other witnesses are expected to be called, as well. At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, a judge will determine whether there is enough evidence to force Williams and Winbush to stand trial.
Williams has been jailed since his arrest on Dec. 29. Winbush was arrested Dec. 29 and released the next day after posting bond.
If convicted of all charges, both face a possible maximum sentence of 13 years in state prison.
UPDATE 1/29/15: Winbush, Williams ordered to trial on all charges
During day two of the preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon, the judge heard testimony from Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy Robert Ferrell, who investigates blood-sport crimes.
Ferrell said he recovered a “large quantity” of dog fighting and dog breeding materials from the couple’s master bedroom, including several dog fighting magazines and a handwritten note bearing the address and signature of a known, convicted dog fighter.
Ferrell testified that the four 3-month-old puppies found in separate crates in a spare room were believed to be “future dogfighting dogs” based on their housing conditions.
Boards were placed between the crates to prevent the puppies from seeing each other, Ferrell said, adding that “there was a reason they were kept apart.” The home also contained four treadmills, including a “slatmill,” which Ferrell described as a self-propelled treadmill for exercising fighting dogs.
Ferrell also testified about the unsanitary living conditions at the home. He said the entire home was layered in dirt and dust, the kitchen sink was “covered in a green-black slime,” there was trash everywhere, and there was an “intense, almost overpowering stench.”
“The home was in filthy, filthy conditions,” Ferrell said. “It’s the worst house I’ve ever seen.”
He said Winbush’s minor son was inside the home when authorities served the search warrant, as were Williams and Winbush.
Ferrell testified that he spoke with the couple about their filthy living conditions. Williams said he had gotten lazy and hadn’t gotten around to cleaning up, while Winbush said she had hurt herself and wasn’t able to clean up after the dogs, according to Ferrell’s testimony.
The preliminary hearing concluded Thursday afternoon, with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Eric Harmon ordering Williams and Winbush to stand trial on all charges.
They’re due back in court Feb. 17 for a second arraignment.
Previous related story: PSD administrator charged with dog fighting, animal cruelty, child abuse